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Bali is a living postcard, an Indonesian paradise that feels like a fantasy. Soak up the sun on a stretch of fine white sand, or commune with the tropical creatures as you dive along coral ridges or the colorful wreck of a WWII war ship. On shore, the lush jungle shelters stone temples and mischievous monkeys. The “artistic capital” of Ubud is the perfect place to see a cultural dance performance, take a batik or silver-smithing workshop, or invigorate your mind and body in a yoga class.
Thailand’s largest island is an international magnet for beach lovers and serious divers, who enthusiastically submerge themselves in the Andaman Sea. Blue lagoons and salmon sunsets make for a dream-like atmosphere, and indeed, a vacation here can feel a bit surreal. Watersports are the most popular activities, though once you’ve had enough sun there’s still plenty to explore at the island’s aquariums, gardens, and Buddhist temples.
Koh Samui was once a Thai fishing community, and that charming sensibility is still present today. Spending time in Bophut is a wonderful way to soak up local culture; the beachy village restaurants and pubs are perfect spots to experience the sunset. There aren’t many other places where you can bask in the camp of a cabaret show and the solemnity of a Buddhist temple. As far as the latter goes, Wat Plai Laem is a magnificent vision of gilded red rooftops and a massive spindly-armed statue of Guanyin.
Drifting serenely in the Gulf of Thailand, the palm-fringed island of Ko Tao takes its name from the abundant sea turtles that reside on its shores. White sand beaches sheltered by steep hills – some only accessible with four-wheel drive vehicles – and 300 days of sun per year invite long afternoons of lounging.
Gili Trawangan is the hub of the Gili Islands dive industry. There are about a dozen dive shops and schools, all eager to show you the stunning underwater scenery. Après dive, cozy up in a beach bungalow and sip on a tropical drink. Want a teetotaling way to decompress? Twist and pose your way to tranquility in the sacred sanctuary of the Gili Yoga center.
At only 4.5 miles long, Boracay is small enough to navigate by rented bicycle or motorbike. But don't let its small size fool you—you'll have several excellent beaches to choose from. Yapak Beach is known for beautiful white shells; White Beach has picture-perfect sunsets; and Balinghai Beach is a secluded spot, perfect for honeymooners. As long as you visit during dry season, you'll agree this is one of the best beach destinations in the world.
Langkawi is a serene archipelago of 140 islands – only a few of which are inhabited. The largest of these is the eponymous Langkawi Island, which has UNESCO World Geopark status because of its richly populated (by wildlife, that is) conservation areas. The best way to experience these ecological wonders is from high above, on the Langkawi Sky Bridge that stretches above the rainforest. Cheekily-named Pregnant Maiden freshwater lake is a great place to take a dip or play keep-away with the kleptomaniac monkeys.
Premium scuba diving and snorkeling are the highlights of the gorgeous Havelock Island, the most popular of the Andaman Islands. Glass-bottomed boats provide a similar up-close marine life experience. Jungle treks and camping are popular landlubbing activities, though the more delicately dispositioned can choose to retire to one of several luxury resorts. Refuel with fresh coconut milk and succulent, just-caught seafood, which dominates every meal.